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The art of tag-teaming

31 Oct

Daddy steals a snuggle before running off to a gig.

At the risk of boring y’all’s socks off, here’s what today looks like:

George makes us coffee and heads to work. I get Annabelle up and tend to her diaper and breakfast. I eat my breakfast while she plays. Play, play, play, she goes down for a nap. I cross my fingers, because not all of her “naps” are naps. Meanwhile, I caramelize some onion and sausage for a pizza for dinner. I’ve already taken the homemade dough, a la Mark Bittman, and sauce out of the freezer. Annabelle is still asleep, thank you Greek God of Napping (Snorello?).

Soon, I’ll make lunch. George will come home from his morning classes, and Annabelle will wake up. We’ll all eat, I’ll shower and change and head out to teach my own classes. I love teaching, and I couldn’t possibly be more thankful that Oklahoma State University hired me to teach college students how to make podcasts, online videos, blogs and slide shows. I’d be pretty bored here in the middle of Oklahoma without this gig! It’s the perfect arrangement, because I teach enough to keep up my chops and contribute to the community, and I stay home enough to be the very involved parent I always wanted to be.

George will take Annabelle for the afternoon, running errands and — he doesn’t know it yet, but he will soon — assembling and baking the pizza. I’ll get back at 5:30. We’ll scarf down dinner together and then at 6 my dear busy husband will head to Oklahoma City for a rehearsal with the OKC Philharmonic. I’ll put Annabelle to bed, do some grading, watch “Nashville,” and wind down. The hubs will return at 11 p.m. and we’ll go to sleep.

Mommy and her little munchkin!

It’s incredible that we are able to have this schedule, and I can’t say enough about tag-teaming everything, from making money to preparing meals to raising our child. To have both parents feel involved in every part of making the household run smoothly means both are invested in everything equally (except for the obvious exceptions of the cars, which George cares about 8,000 times more than I do, and Annabelle’s wardrobe, which I care about 8,000 times more than George does).

Of course everybody has a unique set of circumstances to consider when they’re carving out the way their own family will function, and there’s no one right answer for anybody. I’m really not judgmental about other people’s decisions, because no two families should be alike. Some parents work, some stay home, some do something in between. Whatever floats your boat — or rubber duckies — is fine by me. I’m sure we’ll all find a way to totally screw up our children no matter what choices we make!

But I just love that in the Speed family, we have achieved a balance that really defines who I am: traditional and progressive all at once. I love thinking out of the box and love that our arrangement is not one you would magically be offered without creating it yourself. And it’s a priority to me that we can be making most of our own meals and that Annabelle can always be at home with a parent. I LOVE, too, that that parent is not always the mom. This baby girl adores her daddy, and that they get to spend alone time together warms my heart. George also admits that he has bonded with his daughter in a new way since he began taking solo-parenting shifts.

This blog post doesn’t have a big point to make (other than, “I’m still here, even though I haven’t blogged in ages!”) I guess I’m just consistently grateful that we are making this work just the way I want it to. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think I have Oklahoma living to partially thank for that. A short commute for both of us plus a low cost of living and ease of everyday errand-running really help make our work-life balance possible. Yay, small towns in the middle of the country (sort of)! Now if only we could get a Whole Foods …

Traveling with Baby? Review This Contract

15 Jul

A summer on the road? I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

My daughter and I have spent the summer visiting far-flung friends and relatives all over the place, and by a narrow margin the rewards have outweighed the challenges. Annabelle, now six months old, has been showered with love and affection, and she has brightened all the faces of those who wanted to meet her. I, too, have loved watching her interact with all the special people in our lives and re-introducing myself to close friends and relatives as a newly minted mother.

But, it has not been easy.

I think anybody planning a similar journey — particularly with a difficult baby like my own — should first consider this five-point checklist:

1) I understand that no room will be dark enough, no house quiet enough.

If your baby is like mine, she needs silence and darkness to achieve anything remotely close to a restful nap. This is great in her carpeted, blackout-shade-adorned nursery, but when you’re on the road it means making room in your luggage for a white-noise machine and going to lengths to outfit a makeshift sleeping space wherever you go. You might have to get creative, using towels to cover cracks of light or attacking a bright window with a roll of tin foil and masking tape (I have done this one without shame). Or it may mean putting your kid to sleep in the bathroom.

Sometimes you will have to share a room with Little Miss Sensitive herself, which means perfecting your tiptoeing skills, changing into your PJs in the hallway and staying perfectly still in bed no matter how uncomfortable you are. As for quiet, you have to accept unaccounted-for sounds of other people’s homes: creaky floors, neighbors’ loud weed whackers, or my mother’s notorious habit of slamming doors and cupboards instead of closing them quietly.

2) I know our schedule will fall apart.

The problem with doting relatives is that they actually want to see the baby! They don’t go out of their way to come over and visit your new bundle of joy expecting you to have successfully put her down for her third nap of the day (which is, in fact, the ideal number of naps for a cranky baby like my own). And you know better than that, too. After all, how often is it that your own grandmother has a chance to cuddle with her first and only great-granddaughter? You would rather rob your baby of a nap than steal a single second of such rare cross-generational bonding. And so, no matter how resolved you are to adhere to the routine you fought so hard to establish at home, you gladly go with the flow and skip naps or stay up later than usual to encourage quality time between your child and her admirers. Your baby, in a fun and exciting place, enjoying lots of attention, will be full of smiles and wonder. But it won’t last, and you will pay for breaking the routine. No good visit goes unpunished.

3) I will be living without the usual baby “stations.”

At home, the changing table is at just the right height. The crib is right by the nursing couch. The swing is off in its own, quiet room. The little baby chair is right by the kitchen table. Everything has its perfect place. In other people’s homes, you will likely be breaking your back changing your baby on the floor or a bed. And if that doesn’t break your back, nursing without your trusty My Brest Friend will. Instead of its perfectly placed mounting on the wall at home, your video monitor will have to rest at the top of a makeshift pile of pillows and blankets precariously balanced on a chair next to the Pack and Play. And in your well-honed Fearful Mommy Mind, this pile will undoubtedly come crashing down in the middle of the night and bury your helpless child. So you keep the monitor on extra loud to make sure you hear when disaster strikes, which is the 77th Reason You Won’t Sleep Well Tonight or any night on the road.

4) I know I will be a burden.

Everybody worries about their baby crying on the plane and bothering strangers, but that’s only one way you’ll piss off other travelers. My little girl started solids the night before a flight, and she had the smelly diaper to prove it. Only problem was she hit that special milestone (First Toxic Diaper) while landing in Boston, so no baby-changing allowed. “Fasten your seat belts, folks. This landing is going to be extra stinky!”

Then, when you get off the plane and have to assemble your Snap N Go while holding your carry-on, your purse and your baby, all while standing at the base of the jet bridge, getting in the way of stressed-out passengers with 15-minute layovers, you will definitely feel like the world’s biggest jerk. The businessman talking on his Bluetooth can’t hold a candle to the obnoxiousness you’ve got up your Mommy sleeve. You’ll wonder how you went from savvy traveler to that lady, virtually overnight. Then, when you get to your destination, you’ll still feel like a little too much guest for even the kindest host. Using their trash for diapers. Making them listen to crying through a monitor during dinner. Letting them scrub down their sink so you can bathe your baby. Handing them a damp towel when your tyke spits up all over their new blouse. There’s simply no way, with a baby in tow, not to impose.

5) You will get advice you don’t need.

Staying in other people’s homes means they get a close-up look at your everyday parenting choices. If your baby fusses, people have opinions about what you should do. My dad thought I should “go cuddle” Annabelle when she cried during sleep training. My mom suggested I was “conditioning” Annabelle to only be able to sleep in dark, quiet places by trying to carve one out for her while traveling. I told my mom I’m not conditioning Annabelle to be like that, she IS like that. You have to stick to your guns about your own convictions, which is hard when your baby is fussing and others see that you aren’t immediately able to calm her. It’s kind of like when somebody is trying to open a jar with a tight lid. It’s almost impossible to watch them struggle without offering a hand. Then you take the jar — “here, let me try,” — certain that you can get just the right angle and exert that extra dose of strength to open the jar, only to find that you, too, are unable. That’s how it is with a fussy baby. It’s easy to look at one and suggest solutions, much harder to actually find the magic bullet.

Congratulations! By reviewing these five central truths of traveling with an infant, you’re more prepared than ever to load up the Boppy, the Bumbo, the Bjorn and the baby, and hit the road. I promise that it’s worth it … barely.

Fun with Birthday Videos!

19 Apr

My mom, sister and dad all have birthdays within a week of each other. This year, I featured Annabelle in three short birthday videos for them. Pretty cute, I’d say!

Happy Birthday to my sister, Erica:


Happy Birthday to my dad, who always called us, “A couple of cool cats:”


And a Happy Birthday to my mom:

Always Expect Cold Soup and Other Parenting Revelations at Six Weeks

26 Feb

Annabelle has been kicking around this joint for six weeks now, and boy has it been a steep learning curve for her parents. Here are just a few of the lightbulb moments I’ve had during the last month and a half.

She's trying to figure out her new world, and so are we.

1. They “grow so fast” because of YOU.

Parents frequently talk about how “before you know it,” your kid is smiling, laughing, crawling, walking, talking, dressing for prom and leaving for college. But I never connected the dots that all that growth is not just something that happens outside your control, as if by magic. YOU, the mother, are in charge of providing the sustenance that turns your 7-lb baby into a full-fledged, independent person.

And feeding her is a pain, sometimes literally! It takes over your LIFE! There is no way anybody can prepare you for the constant newborn noshing, morning, noon and night, but it’s pretty much all I think about (and apparently all Annabelle thinks about, too).

2. You have no time because you’re busy doing nothing.

I’ve heard other new parents complain that they don’t even have time to take a shower, but I didn’t quite believe it. I thought maybe that only applied to women whose husbands went right back to work. But I imagined that with two parents at home, we could both attend to the baby’s needs and keep our house in order. Well, we do, but barely, and I still don’t have time for a shower, and I have put off going to the bathroom for hours at a time, waiting endlessly for the right moment. I still cannot tell you why this is. If you asked me what I did on any given day, it would include very little. It would be something like: I fed her and then walked around with her and then fed her. Yet I count myself lucky if I do anything else.

3. You and your husband will spend entire days at home without exchanging a word.

Hours upon hours have gone by in our house without us getting to talk to each other. One of us is doing laps with an inconsolable baby and the other is folding laundry for the 80th time that day. When we find those rare chances to exchange a bit of adult conversation, it feels like a foreign concept: “Oh, you! I think I’ve seen you around here before. Come here often?”

We’re typically that inseparable couple that does everything together, from running errands to cooking dinner to cleaning up afterward, chatting and joking the whole way. But now it’s more like a relay race, where we pick up where the other left off. George cooks while I feed the baby. He eats his meal while I change a diaper. I eat my meal while he puts her to sleep. Or something like that. But doing things together at the same time? Suddenly that seems rare.

4. You shouldn’t count on anything.

Oh, how I crave routine like I’ve never craved it before. Just when I think Annabelle is establishing a pattern, she will break it. For three nights in a row, she’ll go to sleep at 6 p.m. The fourth night I’ll put her down, sit down to my dinner, a glass of wine and some trashy television show, and just as I’m about to take that first sip of hot soup, she calls my bluff with a fit of crying. And it doesn’t stop for four hours. Four hours of routine-breaking madness that drives me crazy not just because that much crying would drive anybody crazy, but also because it tosses out the one little bit of reliability I thought I had. In truth, the only consistency is that your soup will always be cold, because the baby always cries when the food is fresh.

5. Parenting is all about logistics

It was pretty messy the first (and only) time I tried to feed Annabelle in a public place. We were in a restaurant, and I tried to feed her surreptitiously under a “hooter-hider,” my back to the other customers. It was anything but subtle. I didn’t know how to put the contraption over my head with one hand and adjust the strap while holding her in the other hand, so it never fully covered me. The pad in my bra fell out onto the floor, and I was so flustered that when I reached down to pick it up, I almost hit my daughter’s head on the table and definitely flashed the other diners. I ended up just storming out of the restaurant and feeding her in the back of the car, which led to an equally awkward diaper change in the back of the car.

To be a good parent, it turns out, you don’t just have to be good at kissing boo-boos and doing funny voices when you read Roald Dahl books. Long before those are remotely relevant skills, you have to know how to unfold a stroller with just one hand.

The Romantic Era: So Far, My Child Is Perfect

21 Dec

Pregnant ... with good intentions.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this on another blog Aug. 6, so some of the info is outdated (e.g. we know now that we’re having a girl)!

I’m 19 weeks pregnant with my first child, which I have come to see as the Romantic Era of parenthood.

With the I Hate My Life, Everything Makes Me Want to Vomit Era well behind me now, and the I Can’t See My Feet, All My Joints Ache Era still in the somewhat distant future, I can sit back and relax in my stretchy pants and empire-waist dresses, eating handfuls of bonbons, without guilt, and dreaming of cuddling up with a snuggly little bug in a onesie who coos when she hears my voice.

Not only am I physically well for the first time in months, but there seems no limit to my fantasies about how perfect and amazing parenthood will be.

Today I told my husband (who actually IS perfect beyond my wildest fantasies) that I imagine us with a child who breezes through the ages of 2 and 3 without ever being remotely “terrible.” And my husband agreed, himself suggesting that perhaps we will have a baby who never cries!

We will simply ask our little one, “Are you hungry?” And he will nod, politely, silently, and we will feed him. A little while later we will say, “Are you tired?” And again, he will nod, and then go down for a long nap without a fuss.

Yeah, right. I know. But in the Romantic Era of pregnancy and pre-parenthood, you can actually let yourself believe these things!

All your questions serve up only the most favorable answers.

Will delivery be torture? No, my experience with childbirth will be miraculously pain-free! Will our child keep us up all night? No, she will be a sleeping prodigy!

We don’t know yet if we are having a girl or a boy, and either seems ideal to us, since we are in the Romantic Era.

If it turns out to be a boy, our son will, of course, grow up to be the consummate gentleman, just like his daddy. Holding doors and saying “please” and “thank you” without prompting. He will be good at sports without ever wanting to run in the house.

If it’s a daughter, she will look adorable in pigtails and be a superb tea-party host to her dolls and stuffed animals. She’ll speak comfortably with adults without ever clamoring for attention.

Our parenting, also, turns out to be flawless in our Romantic Era fantasy.

We imagine that we right all the wrongs of our own upbringings. We will strike the perfect balance of loving and strict. We will always be consistent with discipline and rules. We will put our children first without spoiling them. There will be family dinners every night and no fighting, ever.

Oh, the joys of parenthood when your child is still in the womb!

The only thing that sounds better than the Romantic Era is real life.

In truth, I can’t wait to hear my baby cry. I can’t wait to see my child testing the limits of his world. I’m even sort of looking forward to that annoying phase where they can’t stop saying, “Mommy, Mommy, look at this,” and then you look over and see them doing something totally dumb and unimpressive.

Because as romantic as it is to be 19 weeks pregnant and brimming with idealism, I am so looking forward to the day I hold my baby in my arms and know that she is real — that she is beautifully human and uniquely flawed.

She will have cranky days and character impediments, just like the rest of us. She will keep her poor parents up at night, and there will be many days we want to tear our hair out.

But our child will be unlike anybody we’ve ever known or imagined, and that is what excites us most. He will be perfect because he is not.